A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Sushi Made Easy
    The Sushi Made Easy requires two additional steps and another piece of equipment for the maki-making process. It’s not Sushi Made Easy, it’s Sushi Made More Complex. It’s also sushi in the style of caulking your bathtub!
  • Get organized for back-to-school
    Help your children get organized and ready to go back to school with these four tips.

2010

2009

Organizing now to save time in the future

I recently heard a podcast where a former high school teacher was talking about how he prepared his lessons. He spent a lot of time preparing PowerPoint slides (with speaker notes) and practicing his delivery so he knew it worked well and fit the time he had. He said other teachers thought he was a bit odd for doing this much work, but his reply was that he’d much rather spend the time up front to save the time later. Once the lesson materials were created, he could pick up the same materials the next day or the next year and be ready to go.

As I listened to this, I thought about how so much organizing involves just this: doing some up-front work so things work smoothly in the future.

  • You create filing systems so you can find the papers (or computer files) you want when you need them.
  • You organize your books on bookshelves so you can find the book you want without too much trouble.
  • You organize your first aid supplies and create disaster preparation plans so you know you’re set for any future emergency.
  • You create to-do lists and checklists so you won’t forget critical things at some future time. For example, a packing list created once saves time on all future trips. It also prevents the trouble you’d have if you forgot your passport, some critical medications, the charger for your cell phone, etc.

Thinking about investing time now to save time in the future helps when trying to decide just how organized is “organized enough.” It makes sense for a teacher to invest extra time in lesson preparation when he knows he’ll be teaching the same lesson many times in the future.

Similarly, sometimes it’s worth spending more time on a filing system than other times. Some papers get accessed frequently, and others (such as insurance policies) are not needed that often — but when you do need them, the situation is critical. With those items it makes sense to spend time creating a well thought out filing system that lets you put your hands on the right papers almost immediately.

But other papers might be much less critical. For example, you may need to keep certain papers for legal reasons, but you don’t expect to ever have to access them — and if you do, the need won’t be all that time-sensitive. In that situation, you may want a much less detailed filing system, because it’s not worth the time to do anything elaborate. For example, a big collection of related papers (such as receipts for a given year) could just go into a Bankers Box. As long as the box was properly labeled, you could always find any papers you might need, in the off chance you do have to find any of them.

And consider your books — how organized do they need to be? My books are arranged by category (history, art, mysteries, science fiction, etc.). I’ll usually keep books by the same author together in a category, but I don’t do any further organizing within a category because I can find a book pretty quickly with just the system I have. If it gives you great pleasure to organize your books quite precisely, that’s fine — organize to your heart’s delight! But the rest of us can choose to be less structured.

As you’re creating each of your organizing systems, stop and think: Are you making a good trade-off between the time you’ll save in the future and the time you’re spending up front?

Unitasker Wednesday: Flip-It! cap

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

This week’s unitasker selection is one of those that when you first look at it you think, “oh, that’s not a unitasker.” But then, after a few minutes, you realize how absolutely unnecessary it is. Introducing the Flip-It! cap:

Yes, sometimes liquid gets stuck at the bottom of a container. But you know what? You can turn the bottle upside down without a special cap! Almost all lids are flat, so this isn’t an issue. If the cap is some where round thing, just rest the bottle against something else in your refrigerator, bathroom, laundry room, wherever. Your jar of pickles and applesauce can be multi-taskers. Wheeeeeee!!

Thanks to reader Bry for sharing this unitasker with us.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

  • New office products: Antimicrobial file folders and bookmark index cards
    My friend and professional organizer Julie Bestry recently headed to Office Depot to see what is new in the back-to-school supplies section. Her recap of the adventure introduced me to two new types of organizing products I wanted to pass along to you.
  • The multitasking sleeper chair
    Sleeper chairs are fantastic additions in small spaces because they work double duty as seating and guest accommodations. One of these multitaskers in a living room or office is perfect when you don’t have a guest room or space for a larger sofa sleeper.

2009

Getting over the guilt of unfinished tasks

As I sit down to write this, I can see the nightstand next to my bed. There are no less than four books piled upon it. Inside each book is a bookmark, noting the page I last read. Next to the stack is a Kindle, itself brimming with books waiting for my attention. I even belong to an informal book club that meets in just a few weeks and I’m not yet finished with this month’s selection.

However, I’m done with “Unfinished Guilt Syndrome.”

Despite the made-up name, Unfinished Guild Syndrome has plagued me for years, especially regarding books. In the past, when I have started reading a book, I’ve felt compelled to finish it, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. More than anything, the guilt associated with putting a book down knowing that I wouldn’t pick it back up was the real deterrent. I’ve never liked giving up on a book.

And it’s not just me. The website Goodreads recently published a list of the most “initiated but unfinished books,” as reported by its users. The top ten were:

  1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  2. The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce
  4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  5. Holy Bible: King James Version
  6. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  10. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

These are all classics and I’m sure individuals are more than willing to argue that the books are worth finishing, but still they are only partially read by the masses. So, is pushing through a book you dislike or have lost interest in really the best course? And, obviously, it’s not just books — is any hobby worth pursuing to the end if you dislike it? The time you waste feeling guilty and begrudgingly finishing the project could be spent doing something than you actually enjoy (reading a book you like better, knitting a scarf you really want, refinishing a chair you will use and enjoy).

Understanding what I have to sacrifice to do something I don’t have to do and don’t enjoy, I’ve finally given up Unfinished Guilt Syndrome. It’s OK to stop reading a book that I’m simply not enjoying. It’ll result in a greater number of books read overall, and prompt me to try again in a year or so, when perhaps the time will be right or to give away the book to someone who might enjoy it more than me.

Are you ready to let go of Unfinished Guilt Syndrome?

What to do with old USB flash drives

I’ve got an army of old flash-based thumb drives in a drawer and it’s time to put them to work. The following are ideas for what to do with these drives if you’re like me and now rely mostly on transferring files through the cloud (via Dropbox or similar).

Encrypted vault of secret files

I’m a big fan of Knox for Mac. It does several cool tricks including reformatting thumb drives to be secure, password-protected volumes. Perhaps you’re traveling for business and don’t want to take any chances with sensitive information. Maybe you’ve got info from multiple clients on a single drive and need to ensure they don’t get mixed up. Or, perhaps you want to pretend you’re an international spy. Whatever the reason, Knox keeps that information very secure indeed. You can even put a copy of the Knox app itself on the drive, so if you’re using it on a Mac without Knox installed, you can still open the volume (and Spotlight on that machine won’t index it, either).

Portable apps

So-called “portable apps” are light versions of software that don’t need to be installed on a host computer to run. By installing them on a thumb drive, you know you’ll be able to run the software you need when you’re away from you main computer. Some examples of portable apps include:

Audio books for the car

Many car stereos now feature a USB port for accessing media via the vehicle’s stereo or in-dash entertainment system. If you like listening to audio books like I do, you know that they can take up a lot of space on your digital audio player. Why not put them on a thumb drive and keep it in the car? That way you’ll have several of your favorite audiobooks available during long trips without taking up space on your smartphone or digital audio player.

Fun gifts

Need a gift for a family member or friend? CNET suggests adding music, photos, videos and other files that someone will find meaningful to a drive and then giving it as a gift. The recipient can even take those files off of the drive, put them somewhere for safe keeping and then have a nice thumb drive to use.

Press kit

I’ve received several press kits on customized thumb drives. They’ve contained a working version of a piece of software, a PDF of a press release, high-resolution graphics to use in a review, and more. Often the drives themselves bear a company logo. It’s a nice way to share such information and, like the gift idea, leaves the recipient with a nice drive to use.

Donate

Check with your local school, scout groups, camps, and other non-profit organizations to see if they need any drives. My kids needed them at school and camp recently. Just be sure to erase them thoroughly before handing them over.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Ask Unclutterer: What should I do with old awards?
    In sorting old memorabilia, I have found my large collection of award ribbons from the many fairs and shows that I competed in as a youth. There are some that I plan to keep that really meant a lot to me. But I literally have a large Sterilite container full of these. Do you have any suggestions on a nice way for me to store these or some sort of way to use them? I hate to just throw them out.

2009

Uncluttering and other people’s things

An unfortunate uncluttering incident hit the news last week when Leonard Lasek accidentally discarded his wife’s copy of an old Judy Blume book.

As Lasek wrote on the posters he has put around his neighborhood:

I accidentally gave this book away on Saturday July 25th in a box on the corner of Green & Franklin. This book is extremely important to my wife. It was a keepsake from her mother and is irreplaceable. On the inside cover is a note that reads “Christmas 1991.” If you happened to pick up this book can you please get in touch with me.

Judy Blume heard about this and has offered to send an autographed copy as a replacement — which is wonderful, but even she isn’t sure she can get the specific edition since that particular printing is no longer available. Perhaps the person who picked it up will see one of the posters and will return it.

This incident is a good reminder that uncluttering someone else’s stuff without permission is almost never a good idea. (I’m not discussing extreme situations here, where there may be health or safety issues — just normal stuff that one person sees as clutter.)

Rather than getting rid of your partner’s things on the sly, consider going through them (with permission) and identifying those items that seem like good candidates for giving away, and then checking to see if your partner agrees.

I’ve found that checking in about everything, even the smallest of stuff, shows respect and builds trust. And that trust makes it easier to then have good discussions about the bigger things.

With children, uncluttering their things a bit more complicated. I’ve read and heard plenty of stories about adults who felt betrayed when, as children, their parents got rid of much-loved possessions. Yet involving children in every decision might be a real time-waster.

But it doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing situation. It might be fine to throw away a broken toy no one plays with anyway or to give away clothes the kids have outgrown. For other things, though, involving children in the decision-making process can teach them uncluttering habits and skills that will be useful throughout their lives. And sometimes they may surprise you! I’ve seen some children gladly give up way more toys than their parents thought they would.

At what age can children be involved? From my experience, I’d say that some preschoolers can do a fine job of choosing things to give away, with a bit of coaching. You can read online accounts of parents who started working on this with their children at age 3 or age 4.

Everyone likes to know that the things that are special to them, for whatever reason, aren’t going to disappear because someone else decided they were unimportant.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2012

2010

  • Many paths can lead to the same, remarkable goal
    I’m not much of an environmentalist — I’ve never tried to save the whales, or even just one whale — but simple living advocates and proponents of waste reduction often find themselves in the same professional circles. I thought Colin Beavan’s words in No Impact Man might have something to inspire me in the work I do, and I was correct.
  • Bringing clutter into the light
    Is there clutter hiding in your basement, attic, or garage? Is it at the back of a closet, under the kitchen sink, or in your medicine chest? What is the situation under your bed, in the linen closet, and in the drawers of your entertainment center?

2009

Organizing if money were no object

When my sisters and I were kids, we would sometimes play the Million Dollar Game. It amounted to little more than this: If you had a hundred million dollars, what would you do with it? Back then, the answers came fast and furious:

Ride a helicopter to school!
Live in a house made of gold!
Have a pet zebra!
Have a hundred pet zebras!

Today, let’s have a little fun and play the Million Dollar Game for Organizing, Productivity, and Uncluttering. If money were no object, the following are some of the over-the-top products I’d consider introducing to my life. Park your helicopter on your house of gold and pick out your favorite zebra, because it’s time to have a little fun.

My first selection would be the Cardok (see picture above). The Cardok enables underground parking on a residential level. Similar to public garages you see in big cities, the Cardok stores your car, out of sight and underground, when it’s not in use. As the website states, you may even maintain a lovely garden on the “roof” when the car is parked.

Or pretend you’re Batman. I’d pretend I’m Batman.

My next purchase would be a dedicated work building. I have a shed in my backyard, but it’s nothing like what Chuck Wendig refers to as his “…fully armed and operational writer’s shed.” Chuck and his wife converted a typical backyard shed into a stand-alone office, complete with electricity, heat/AC, furniture, and a beautiful paint job. It’s easy to keep your home office from spilling into your house when it’s in a separate building.

Now that I think about it, the shed is great but if money were really no object, I’d upgrade to an OfficePOD and add a cool, Mid-Century vibe.

Imagine the conversations you’d have at cocktail parties:
“Where do you work?”
“Next to the oak tree.”

After my OfficePOD, I’d have to install a jaw-dropping, luxury closet. I’m talking about a storage unit with the square-footage of a guest house. Overstuffed furniture to relax on as you decide what to wear, a “jewelry station,” perhaps a mannequin to try clothes on for you, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. I’d have drawers for each day of the week. “It’s Tuesday, let me get some Tuesday socks.” Add on one of those clothes catalog programs and install an iPad into the wall to run the app, and everyone in my family would be set.

Finally, I’d add a Moet Ice Impérial Summer Escape Trunk to my home.

When I was young, my family shared a double-house with my aunt and uncle. My uncle had, in his dining room, a modest bar, the front of which was covered with beer cans. As a young lad, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

No more.

This massive thing holds 20 bottles of champagne, 24 glasses, two ice buckets, and several compartments for garnishes. Plus, it’s on wheels so you can close it up and wheel it out of site when not in use. It’s no home bar made of Schlitz cans, but it is a tidy way to store massive amounts of champagne and barware. Which we all have in the Million Dollar Game, obviously.

This was a bit of fun, yes? What would you pick in the Million Dollar Game for Organizing, Productivity, and Uncluttering?

Calendly is fantastic for easy, organized scheduling

I recently wrote about a few tech options for busy summer scheduling. After that article was published, I ran across Calendly, and now I’m wishing I could to back in time and mention that app in that post.

Seeing as time travel is not yet possible, I’ve decided to mention the app independently. I’m loving Calendly because it’s a hands-off, passive solution for scheduling. It lets you share a single link with potential collaborators, and it automatically accounts for what you already have on your schedule.

When you first create an account, you can link Calendly to Google Calendar or Microsoft’s Office 365. Once the accounts are linked, the app’s features are pretty impressive.

Let’s say you’re trying to schedule a time to talk with someone on Skype. All you need to do is send a person your personal Calendly link, and the service looks at your calendar and sees when you’re free. The person you’re trying to get together with can click any day, and Calendly automatically offers your available time slots to that person, based on what’s on your calendar. They click the one that works for them, adding an event to your calendar and sending you a notification.

As you add more calendar events, your availability in Calendly changes in real time. I’ve been using it for a week now and am hooked.

Note that there is both a free and a paid plan. The latter offers features like team scheduling, automated reminders, and an option to remove the Calendly branding, should you be using the service for business.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2010

2009

  • Do it now
    I try to hold true to the two-minute “Do it now” policy at work, and an extended five-minute “Do it now” policy at home.
  • Weekend Project: Your closet floors
    To be able to vacuum and/or sweep the floors of my closets, I have to pull out storage containers and crawl on my hands and knees to reach back into some of the corners. Inevitably, I find something that I didn’t remember was there and I end up clearing a bit of clutter out of my home.